It is an article of faith in the liberal press that Barack Obama was a popular president. Is that claim true? No, according to the Gallup Poll. In fact, according to the most basic measure of popularity–average approval rating during his years in office–Obama ranks among our least popular recent presidents, behind, among others, George W. Bush and Richard Nixon:
Every case is different, and all kinds of distinctions can be drawn. John Kennedy’s average approval rating is no doubt due in large part to the fact that he served less than a full term. George W. Bush’s rating is certainly inflated by the consensus approval he received after 9/11. But, slice it any way you will, there is no basis for pretending that Barack Obama was particularly popular.
If you followed his approval ratings even casually, e.g. as they were tracked on Rasmussen Reports, the pattern was clear: Obama’s approval rating would rise as an election approached, peak at around the time of the election, and then plummet. There are several ways one can interpret this. I think the most obvious is that Obama the candidate was vastly more popular than Obama the president. Even liberals freely admit that Obama’s personal popularity–such as it was–significantly exceeded the public’s opinion of his policies.
In my view, it is foolish to look at poll data on Obama without acknowledging that in the eyes of a huge number of Americans, his principal significance was that he was the country’s first black president. I think that a great many people who told pollsters they approved of Obama (while going on to disapprove of most of what he did) were really saying that they approved of having a black president.
Be that as it may, the final numbers are in, and they are not impressive. In terms of public approval, Barack Obama was below average for a modern president. So can we stop with the press hagiography?
For purposes of comparison, Rasmussen tells us that so far, just a few days into Donald Trump’s administration, 57% of likely voters approve of his performance. To date, at least, Trump is viewed considerably more positively than Obama was, on the average, over his tenure in office. I suspect that trend will continue as the effects of Trump’s policies are experienced.